On this day in 1789 the leading general of the War of Independence and one of the framers of the Constitution, George Washington, was inaugurated first President of the United States on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street in New York City. He was unanimously chosen President by the Electoral College and the runner-up, John Adams, became Vice President. At his inauguration, Washington set the first of many precedents in making an inaugural address. In office, he created a stable and strong national government with a cabinet system and ensured neutrality in the European wars. Washington was re-elected in 1792 but stepped down after two terms, thus setting the precedent that Presidents usually served two terms (this became part of the Constitution with the 22nd Amendment in 1951).
“Long live George Washington, President of the United States!”
– New York Chancellor Livingston upon swearing in the President
Washington is still considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, President in history for his systematic, effective and thoughtful leadership. All future presidencies have been influenced by the legacy of the ‘father of the country’. His inaugural address, addition of ‘so help me God’ to the oath of office, and two terms in office, are all precedents set by Washington that are still followed today. He has become the standard by which all politicians are compared, and has become a mythical hero in the grand story of America’s founding; a Romulus for the New World. He was not a perfect man (ostensibly standing for liberty and freedom but a slaveowner himself), nor was he a perfect President, but none of his successors have been either. Americans have a tendency to expect perfection from their leaders, and Washington is therefore held up as an ideal type of politician. Whilst he had his flaws, the general who united the states does deserve his esteemed standing in the history books, if only for the precedents he set for years to come.